Georgia Power disputes Plant Scherer health study

Georgia Power sent a letter to the state Department of Public Health this week, disputing parts of a recent report about the possible health effects of Plant Scherer. One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the nation, the Monroe County plant is operated and partially owned by Georgia Power.

The state public health department issued the scoping report about 10 days earlier, in response to community concerns. In the past few years, Juliette residents have learned some wells in the area are contaminated with uranium. Although uranium can occur naturally in the bedrock of the Piedmont region, some neighbors feared Plant Scherer or its huge coal ash pond might be contributing to the problem.

The report found that groundwater contamination near the plant from uranium and other heavy metals probably occurs naturally – a conclusion Georgia Power heartily agreed with in its Monday letter signed by Ron Shipman, Georgia Power vice president of environmental affairs.

But the scoping report also indicated that because little data is available, further residential well water testing is needed. And it said the state would seek federal help in evaluating whether exposures to air contaminants from the plant could be affecting human health.

The six-page Georgia Power letter claims that the state report omitted or mischaracterized the results of air and water testing and monitoring.

As an example, it cites data collected between 1975 and 1980 by the U.S. Geological Survey which showed unsafe levels of uranium were a problem in local ground water even before Plant Scherer was built. The letter indicates Georgia Power provided this information, which supports the conclusion that the uranium is naturally occurring, to the state Department of Public Health before the report was written.

The letter states, “Georgia Power disagrees with any interpretation of the report that suggests groundwater contamination might exist at Plant Scherer and that Plant Scherer might have contributed to adverse health impacts in Monroe County. ... The Report does not establish that Monroe County residents are experiencing adverse health effects outside of normal ranges.”

Georgia Power provided a tour of the plant and many documents to the public health officials writing the report, and was also allowed to look at the scoping report while it was still a draft.

The company’s letter asks for a meeting with state public health officials and says, “Georgia Power respectfully requests that the (department of public health) consider the comments below and provide an opportunity for additional public input as (the department) moves forward in the scoping process.”

However, public health officials have indicated the scoping process is over. Robert Uhlich, the state environmental health director, said last month that the report is final and the company’s comments won’t affect it.

But Suleima Salgado, deputy communications director for state public health, added Wednesday that the department is always willing to meet with community members and this is no exception.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.